Asia

Country no. 37 on my World Karaoke Tour: slinging songs in Singapore

singapore slingThe New Year’s Eve just past was my worst NYE ever; but I had a pretty good New Year’s night on January 1.

Singapore presents a spectacular fireworks show over Marina Bay on New Year’s Eve. But due to the medical condition that I discuss here, I wasn’t up for jostling among the throngs of people that typically amass at such pyrotechnics displays, or for then facing a potentially lengthy and arduous journey back to my hotel (like the time the time on New Year’s Eve in Lisbon when I waited over three hours in the taxi queue for transportation back to my hotel after watching that city’s ring-in-the-new-year fireworks over the Tagus River). Nor did I wish to attend an expensive party from which I could view the fireworks (or which required attire that I hadn’t brought with me from New York). So I decided that I would commemorate the arrival of 2015 in Singapore with a night of karaoke! But my plans were, as they say, overtaken by events. Continue reading

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H-Bomb’s Sunday photo, week 57: trees bursting through temples in Cambodia

My rib injury continues to heal, leaving in doubt whether I’ll be in condition to embark on my already-delayed trip to Rome in mid-February. In the meantime, I’d like to reminisce about my recently-concluded jaunt to southeast Asia. One place I got to in that region was Ta Prohm, a temple complex in Angkor, Cambodia. Celebrated for having trees bursting through the temple buildings, Ta Prohm is a case study in what happens when you abandon a site of human settlement for 400 or so years. (The complex was abandoned in the 17th century.)

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Ta Prohm is a poster child for the “life after people” effect: nature gradually takes over and reasserts her primacy over the works of us puny humans.

And here’s a bonus image showing another of my favourite scenes from Ta Prohm. In the foreground, you can see the destruction wrought by the tree as its roots worked their way through the structure.

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All of the Angkor archaeological region, which is best-known for the Angkor Wat Temple, is collectively a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Do you like visiting the ruins of once-great structures?

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Country no. 36 on my World Karaoke Tour: one night in Bangkok

10499337_746925358710124_2554592821382471102_oFor my Thai karaoke debut in Bangkok, the obvious choice for my song selection was “One Night in Bangkok,” Murray Head’s worldwide top-five hit from the Broadway musical, Chess. Prior to my foray to Southeast Asia, I spent weeks practicing the song. There was only one problem: the karaoke bar in Bangkok turned out not to have that song available. Yes, the karaoke bar in Bangkok. As I’ll cover in future installments on my recently concluded vacation, the vast majority of karaoke establishments in East Asia offer singing opportunities solely in the form of “karaoke box,” a style that features private rooms that customers rent with their friends or family members. For an exorbitant hourly rate, the patrons in the private chamber sing to each other during their allotted time. (A number of venues in New York City also offer private rooms for karaoke.) But as you know, karaoke for me is all about the performance, and I insist on singing in public in front of an audience of strangers. Karaoke box is not for me. Luckily, the amazing front desk staff at my Bangkok hotel, the Grand Eastin, located for me a restaurant called Sabaijai Kebtawan that specializes in seafood, and — more importantly — where I was able to perform on a stage in my accustomed manner on a Sunday night. With those plans set, I had every expectation that the Land of Smiles (as Bangkok is commonly referred to) would live up to its sobriquet. But then my smile turned upside down. Continue reading

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H-Bomb’s Sunday photo, week 56: a capsule hotel in Tokyo

After illness forced the postponement of my trip to Rome (previously scheduled for late November 2014, and now planned for mid-February 2015), I’m still not sure whether I’m sufficiently recovered for my East Asia trip for which I’m supposed to leave on December 24. I’ll be seeing more doctors between now and then, and will also continue to monitor how I feel physically. I really really really want to go ahead with my trip to Bangkok, Singapore, Siem Reap, and Seoul, and I don’t bail on travel plans lightly; after all, you’re talking to the person who flew to India two days after having a wisdom tooth removed. πŸ™‚ But of course my health comes first, and we’ll see how things develop in the next week and a half.

In the meantime, this week’s featured image comes from my very first visit to Asia: my trip to Japan in April 2008. Certain Japanese cities such as Tokyo are known for having “capsule hotels” — incredibly space-efficient places of accommodation, in which your room is a minuscule pod. (Apparently the concept originated in the 1970s as a type of place for famously workaholic Japanese men to catch emergency accommodations when they missed the last train home. Even today, capsule hotels tend to be restricted largely to a male clientele.) Here’s one such capsule hotel that I visited in Tokyo in ’08; at the time, it was known was the Big Lemon. It was situated in the Kabuchiko section of the Shinjuku neighbourhood.

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And here’s a bonus photo from inside the Big Lemon, so you can see just how tiny the “rooms” were:

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I didn’t actually lodge in the Big Lemon; I paid one night’s rental charge (which my records indicate ran just over US $40 in 2008) just so I could gain access and take photos. I did also climb inside and lay down for a while, but was unable to nap because a dude who was legitimately lodging there, in a pod across the aisle from me, was coughing. I only lingered for about an hour before I returned to my actual hotel. The woman at the front desk of the Big Lemon was confused about my leaving so soon. She gave me a receipt and instructed me to show it to her upon my return. I tried to explain to her that I wasn’t coming back.

You won’t find a minibar in your room in one of these understated places of lodging. But there are surprising luxury features such as a color TV and a clock/radio (and I understand that in the present day, high-speed internet is common in capsule hotels). All guests of the facility also enjoy complimentary access to a sauna. And while closet space in each berth is limited, lockers are available on-site in the building to store your valuables.

Would you stay in a capsule hotel?

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A golden temple and a remembrance of spilt blood in Amritsar, India

IMG_20140325_160016_965_1No one seems to know quite how many temples there are in India, but an accurate count would surely reveal numbers running into the thousands. However, it’s difficult for me to imagine that any of those religious houses could be any more beautiful than the main pavilion of the Golden Temple in Amritsar. I was there during my trip to India that took place from March to April of this year. (Earlier during the same trip, India became the 33rd country on my World Karaoke Tour when I sang in New Delhi.)

A city of about 1.1 million people (ranking 34th in population among India’s cities, per the 2011 census), Amritsar is situated in the Punjab state in northwestern India. Its airport makes it very accessible; I flew there round-trip from New Delhi, a journey with a flying time of about one hour (and my return flight from Amritsar to New Delhi on Air India was my first time flying on a Boeing 787. It was a beautiful and comfortable plane.) Like most of the rest of India, Amritsar is also easily reached via passenger rail service.

The main purpose for my inclusion of Amritsar on my itinerary was my desire to see the Golden Temple, although while in town I also visited a non-religious site of historical significance, as you’ll see. In addition, I’ll tell you about a unique day-trip opportunity from Amritsar. Continue reading

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H-Bomb’s Sunday photo, week 53: the colourful skyline of Hong Kong

Namaste! Are you following this blog’s Facebook’s page yet? If not, you can just go here and click on the “like” button! That way, in addition to being apprised of new posts and other developments here at H-Bomb’s Worldwide Karaoke, you’ll see unique content such as photos from my travels that only appear on that Facebook page! Right now, the page has slightly more than 1,600 likes. Can you help me get to 2000?

Okay, with that out of the way, it’s time for a new featured image! Our photograph of the week comes from Hong Kong, which I named to the “Honourable Mention” list in my recent article about the cities I would most like to return to. Every night, the skyscrapers of Hong Kong’s business district present a sound and light show called “A Symphony of Lights” in which they’re illuminated in ever-changing colours, while searchlights and laser beams dance in the sky — with the whole thing synchronised to music. Here’s a snapshot in time from that sound and light show, looking across Victoria Harbour from the waterfront promenade on the Kowloon Peninsula — and as you can see, the buildings were looking particularly festive for the holidays when I went because I was there immediately after Christmas.

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And as a bonus, here’s a video that I took of the Symphony of Lights show, so that you can see and hear what I experienced!


The photo and video footage aboe were taken during my trip to Hong Kong that took place from December 2009 to January 2010. During that trip, China (of which Hong Kong is a Special Administrative Region) became the 15th country on my World Karaoke Tour.

Do you like watching sound and light shows when you travel?

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Places that captured my heart: the top 5 cities that I long to return to

8079727_mWhen I venture forth from my home base of New York City, I tend to prioritize visiting destinations that I’ve never been to before. It’s my goal to explore as many different places on the planet as I can (and, along the way, to sing karaoke wherever in the world I can find it). If I had my druthers, I would travel as often as possible to the spots that I most enjoyed in the past, while constantly adding new locales to my itinerary. Due to time constraints, however, first-time destinations tend to win out when I’m planning my next holiday. There are few overseas cities that I end up getting to more than once. But some metropolises have made such an impression on me that I’m fervently hoping to find a way to spend more time in them. This post is about the five global cities that I would most like to return to.

Note that in compiling this list, my focus was on international travel, and accordingly I only considered cities outside my native United States. I’m certainly always up for going back to American locations such as San Francisco, Las Vegas, New Orleans, Chicago, Miami Beach, and Seattle; but that’s a discussion for another day.

This post was written in response to a challenge by Arnab of the blog Travel Andy. Anyway, here are my top 5!
Continue reading

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H-Bomb’s Sunday photo, week 47: a temple carved into a cave in India

Hello on the last full day of summer in the northern hemisphere! This week’s featured image comes from India. From the city of Mumbai you can take a ferry to Elephanta Island. That island’s big attraction is a series of five temples that are chiseled into caves. Dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva, the rock carvings date back well over one thousand years. The caves are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Here’s a glimpse inside one of them:

cave temple in Elephanta

Despite the name of the island on which these temples are found, there are no elephants; but as with seemingly every other temple site that I visited in India, I saw abundant cows, goats, monkeys, and dogs hanging out on the island.

This photo was taken during my trip to India and Sri Lanka in March and April, 2014.

Would you like to explore these caves?

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H-Bomb’s Sunday photo, week 45: the monkey temple in India

Hello, yeah, it’s been a while! At the beginning of this week I got back from my epic trip to India and Sri Lanka. And this week’s featured image comes from that journey. Just outside the Indian city of Jaipur in the state of Rajasthan, there’s a temple complex known as Galtaji. Dramatically situated in a mountain pass, the site is commonly referred to as the “Monkey Temple” (Galwar Bagh in Hindi). The reason for that sobriquet has to do with the hundreds of rhesus macaques that run around on the temple grounds. A couple of those resident simians can be seen here:

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This photo was taken in March 2014. Incidentally, monkeys are not the only form of wildlife that abounds at Galtaji. Plenty of cows, goats, pigs, and dogs also roam the sacred precincts. (I found monkeys, cows, and stray dogs to be pretty ubiquitous in the parts of India that I visited, even in urban downtowns.) But it’s the monkeys that were especially adorable.

Have you been to, or would you like to visit, India?

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H-Bomb’s Friday Photo, week 44: the Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery in Hong Kong

Happy Friday, and happy Pi Day! I leave for India just one week from tonight! Anyhoo, our featured image this week comes from Hong Kong, and a Buddhist temple called the Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery (also known as Man Fat Tsz). Despite its name, the temple is not an actual monastery as no monks reside on the premises. On the grounds of the temple you can find a total of 12,800 statues of Buddha in various styles, sizes, colours, and poses. Some of the statues stand outdoors, while others are installed in various temples, halls, and pavilions. Here are just a few dozen of the statues that you can gaze upon at the Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery:

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One of the highlights of a visit to this place is the walk that you take to get from the entrance to the buildings of the monastery: an uphill stroll along a winding path lined with golden Buddhas. Continue reading

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H-Bomb’s Friday Photo, week 35: a gilded temple in Kyoto

Happy Friday, friends. I was preoccupied this week, as I was preparing for my latest game show audition, which took place yesterday evening. But now I can turn my attention back to this blog — and just in time for a new Friday photo!

This week’s featured image comes from Kyoto, a former imperial capital of Japan. It’s a temple called Kinkaku-ji, also known as the Gold Pavilion.

gilded temple

The two upper stories of this magnificent structure are covered in pure gold leaf. The temple is situated on the Kyoko-Chi, meaning “Mirror Pond.”

This photo was taken during my visit to Japan in April 2008.

Incidentally, the game show I was trying out for last night was “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?”. I was told that I’ll find out within a week or two whether I’ve been chosen for the pool of potential contestants for the show. The tryout was a lot of fun, and the producer who interviewed me seemed to like me, but there are never any guarantees in this situation. So I need to keep my fingers crossed; and while I’m waiting to hear back, I will distract myself with thoughts of future destinations on my World Karaoke Tour. πŸ™‚

Would you like to visit Japan?

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H-Bomb’s Saturday Photo, week 27: giant fishes in Tokyo

Happy Saturday! I had a good reason for not getting this weekly photo up yesterday. I’m currently chilling on a Boeing 747-400, 35,000 feet above the North Atlantic, headed to Frankfurt. From there, I’ll catch a connecting flight to Moscow. As you know, I have big plans for the next couple of weeks — for both karaoke and sightseeing — in Russia, the Ukraine, and Moldova. But this trip almost collapsed at the last minute, due to a booking error by United Airlines that left me ticketless on the eve of my departure — even though I’d made my flight reservations all the way back in July 2012. So last night I had to spend hours on the phone with, and tweeting with, United customer service agents. I’ll have more to say at a later time about the bad experience that I suffered at the hands of United; but finally, at about 11:00 pm last night, they got me rebooked on the flights that I should have been on all along.

Now that that’s out of the way, it’s time to share with you this week’s featured image from my prior travels. That image comes from Tokyo, Japan. One of the most unusual things I did there was to visit the morning tuna auction in that city’s famed Tsukiji fish market. The giant tuna that are auctioned off can weigh hundreds of pounds, and their prices are commensurate with their size; earlier this year, a Bluefin tuna at Tsukiji fetched a record $1.78 million US. Here, you can get a sense of just how supersized those fish can be:

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I had to wake up at 4:45 a.m. to see this auction, and it was so worth it! I’ve never seen anything like it.

This photo was taken during my visit to Japan in April 2008.

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H-Bomb’s Sunday Photo, week 21: reflections of Macau

Happy Sunday! I know I need to get better about sticking to a reasonably regular posting schedule on this blog. So I’ve started using Google Calendar to schedule writing time. Hopefully that will help.

Before I get to this week’s slightly delayed featured image (i.e., the latest installment of what is usually called “H-Bomb’s Friday Photo”), I would like to announce my latest travel-related news. For the fifth consecutive year, I’m gong to spend a New Year’s Eve overseas. I’ll be ringing in 2014 in Ireland! More on that as those plans develop.

From Europe to Asia: our latest weekly photo comes from the Far Eastern gambling mecca of Macau. About an hour’s ferry ride from Hong Kong across the Pearl River Delta, Macau was a Portugese territory (and the last European colony in China) until 1999. Since then, it has been a Special Administrative Region of China. Geographically, Macau consists of a peninsula plus two islands.

The mega-hotels and casinos that you’ll find on the peninsula rival anything on the Las Vegas Strip, and even include some of the same names (such as the Wynn and the Venetian). In addition, many of those hotels are garishly illuminated at night, with those lights in ever-shifting colours:

Macao casinos

In the photo above, you can see the Wynn (where I played some blackjack), and behind it the Grand Lisboa. Of course, there’s much more to Macau than places where you can indulge in games of chance. Reflecting its heritage, the territory boasts some outstanding examples of colonial Portugese architecture. And naturally, I sang karaoke there. πŸ™‚

This photo was taken during my visit to Hong Kong and Macau in December 2009.

Incidentally, speaking of karaoke: as I’ve recently mentioned, I’ve now become interested in country music. The next song that I’ll be attempting in that genre is one that I think has the potential to become my new personal anthem: “On the Road Again” by Willie Nelson. You can watch Mr. Nelson performing it here:


I think this song perfectly sums up my worldview, because I truly can never wait to get on the road again!

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H-Bomb’s Friday Photo, Week 12: an endless gateway in Kyoto

Happy last day of the world to you! Today’s featured photo comes from Kyoto, a former imperial capital of Japan. Pictured here is an avenue of contiguous torii (ceremonial, vermillion-coloured gates) at the Fushimi Inari shrine in Kyoto.

Torii!  Torii!  Torii!

This photo was taken during my visit to Japan in April 2008.

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H-Bomb’s Friday Photo, Week 11: stairway to a giant Buddha in Hong Kong

Just one week to go until the Mayan apocalypse. So this might be the second-to-last H-Bomb’s Friday Photo ever!

The subject of today’s featured image comes from Hong Kong. Here we can see the staircase to the 85-foot Tian Tan Buddha on the Ngong Ping plateau on Lantau island. The road to enlightenment starts with a single step!

journey begins with a single step

This gigantic bronze Buddha was completed in 1993.

To get to Ngong Ping I took a scary 3.5-mile cable car ride over water. Afterwards, to return to the station from which I would catch my train back to the city, I took the bus even though that was a much slower mode of transportation than the cable car. Plus, a man sitting in front of me on the bus vomited, so I had to deal with that stench for much of the ride . . .

This photo was taken during my visit to Hong Kong that took place from December 2009 to January 2010. (Yes, that’s where I was on New Year’s Eve to usher in 2010!)

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